Cameron Smith’s preparation was all but complete for his third Masters tilt after playing nine hole practice rounds on Monday and Tuesday at Augusta National with some very contrasting playing partners.
On Monday, Smith took to the front nine of the famed course with two-time Masters champion, and regular practice partner at TPC Sawgrass, Vijay Singh before thunderstorms soaked the golf course. The Queenslander then teeing it up with Marc Leishman and Tommy Fleetwood on Tuesday in the early afternoon after the course had reopened after yet another downpour.
Whereas Singh is meticulous in his approach and might have hit more practice balls than any other golfer on the planet, Smith’s group on Tuesday with Leishman and Fleetwood appeared a far more relaxed affair. The varied benefits of the two rounds a case of weather induced necessity rather than forward thinking on Smith’s part.
“I didn’t really plan them, they just kind of happened,” Smith exclusively told Golf Australia magazine of his practice round partners. “You know nine holes with Vijay yesterday, obviously he has won around here a couple of times so picked his brain a little bit, it was good.
“It wasn’t getting really tips, he knows I have been around here a couple of times and he knows what to say and when to say it, so just a couple of things like to certain pins you can hit it here stuff like that, stuff that I knew, but just hearing it from it Vijay clarifies it more.
“It’s kind of being a bit of a weird week in terms of preparation and stuff, the course is very soft and the rain coming in and out is a bit annoying but we are working around it.”
While the time spent in the company of Singh didn’t prove a hugely eye opening experience, what it did give Smith a window into, was just how soft and long the course is playing. Something that was amplified even more by the rain on Tuesday, when patrons’ walk ways were largely closed to save the fairways and the pine straw and grass outside the ropes turned to mud that saw multiple patrons walking the course with large mud stains from head to toe after loosing their feet.
The rain will mean the course will play longer than in previous years, as will the extra 40 plus yards added to the 5th hole, something that Smith, who has increased his driving distance in the past 12 months, believes won’t hurt him like it would have one or two years ago.
“I wouldn't say I wouldn’t be a chance, it would definitely be a lot harder,” Smith said of his ability to win on a wet course now compared with his first start in 2016. “I mean the course is going to play really long, they’ve changed the 5th up, so the course is going to be longer than ever, so you just have to hit it long and straight.
“I like playing on firm and fast golf courses, but I like to find the positive in everything. But I haven’t really played this course when it’s been wet like this, so it will be interesting come Thursday to see what it’s like.”
Despite facing unfamiliar conditions at Augusta this week, Smith is rightfully confident after finishing the highest of his countrymen at the same tournament last year, his closing 66 netting the 25-year-old a T5 finish that he admits he struggles to recall much of. But Smith was feeling the positive vibes of the result once on the course this week, even finding himself in a similar position on the 18th fairway on Tuesday to where he hit a close approach from on Sunday in 2018. The good memories a nice feeling for Smith after failing to find his best golf in recent weeks.
“I haven’t watched it, I actually don’t really remember it either,” he said of the 2018 final round. “I don’t really remember a lot of stuff on the golf course, I tend to forget. Being on the course and just remembering where pins were last year it all helps.
“I think for me, actually I hit it really good here last year and for me to come back here and see the shots I was seeing last year is really good considering the last couple of weeks out on Tour haven’t really gone my way.”
Although he acknowledged his less than ideal lead-in form as he prepared to head to Augusta National’s expansive practice area on Tuesday afternoon, Smith also noted that arriving for Masters week is different, as it is for so many players, and brings a sense of familiarity, as well as a boost in confidence. And rightfully so.
Smith’s tournament scoring average of 72.75 from his two cuts made from the same number of starts is very solid. But if his blowout round of 82 in the third round of 2016 is removed it drops to an extremely impressive 71.43, better than almost the entire field. Even replacing his worst round with an even par 72 means Smith’s average is 71.5, the best of the four Australians in the field this week, including our lone champion Adam Scott. A statistic that suggests the back-to-back Australian PGA champion’s simple approach to the year’s first major is working.
“It’s a different week. There’s plenty of people around, you hear everything around the course and its Augusta so, you just kind of have to control everything and see how it goes, stick to your guns and be confident and be aggressive,” Smith said of how he plans to tackle the tournament.
Also boosting Smith’s confidence is his most recent win in Australia, his final round defeat of Leishman helping to convince the physically stronger looking Smith that he is ready to finally win an individual event on the PGA Tour.
“Not much really,” Smith said when asked what he needs to do differently to bring his winning form to the states. “It was actually nice last year being up against Leish, one of the best players in the world, and being able to get it done. That sort of gave me the confidence that I can get it done over here and I have to just wait for my week and take my chances.”
Before he finds out if this week is to be that week, Smith will wind down before Thursday’s opening round with his family and friends.
The World No.28’s Mum and sister have made their first trip to Augusta and will caddie for him in the par-3 contest on Wednesday, where he will play with Leishman and Tony Finau, as he did last year. Smith undoubtedly willing to get his new loopers to take a swing if he is near the lead of the par-3 contest to avoid the ‘curse’ that has never seen a par-3 winner claim victory in the tournament proper in the same year, while surely also hoping he doesn’t witness Finau’s ankle popping theatrics two years in a row.